Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky toffee pudding is something I fell in love with even before I took my first bite. This British dessert is a warm, moist brown sugar cake lightly scented with vanilla, studded with plump dates, and topped with a luscious toffee sauce. 100% Yum! It just sounded so good I didn't need any more convincing after reading the description. And now that we're in the middle of Autumn, there's something so comforting about spooning into a warm, gooey dessert like this one. I didn't have dates so I used dried figs (shh... no one has to know), which no longer makes it an authentic sticky toffee pudding but it was nevertheless a delicious variation. Let's pretend I made it with dates so I can call it sticky toffee pudding because I like the name. The cake is light on butter and sugar but the toffee sauce more than makes up for that. Decreasing the amount of sugar in the cake prevents the whole dessert from being toothachingly sweet. Be careful with the toffee sauce though, it's so darn irresistible you may find yourself eating spoonful after spoonful. So better be safe and make a double or triple batch because the sauce can be used on other cakes and as a topping for ice cream. If you cook the sauce even longer, it will be thick enough to use as a filling for sandwich cookies.

Notes:
- According to Cook's Thesaurus, since the dates are being chopped up, use cooking dates rather than dessert dates because those are meant to be eaten whole. Many recipes recommend Medjool dates.
- The batter can be divided into 6 ramekins for the perfect serving size, but you can also bake 12 mini cakes in a muffin tin or a larger cake in a round pan or 8 x 8 inch square pan and cut it into pieces.
- I couldn't figure out why recipes call for adding baking soda into the water with the dates (the leavening power of baking soda dissipates when it hits the hot water?) but I used a little in my recipe anyway.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding
6 oz dates, chopped
1 C boiling hot water
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C AP flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Toffee Sauce:
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C heavy cream
4 Tbsp butter


Roughly chop your dates with a knife or in the food processor and put the chopped dates in a heatproof bowl. Heat up one cup of water to a boil and pour this over the dates. Swirl in the baking soda, cover the bowl and set aside and let it cool for about 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter your baking dish; a muffin pan, ramekins, or a square or round cake pan would all work.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar. Then add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until evenly mixed. Before adding the dates, make sure the liquid has cooled down since you don't want to cook the egg. Add the date mixture liquid and all and mix. Then using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients. Mix until there are no streaks of flour but do not overmix.

Divide the batter among the muffin tin, ramekins (it might not look like enough batter for 6 ramekins but the cakes will puff up in the oven), or spread it evenly into a square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. For my 7 oz. ramekins, it took about 25 - 30 minutes. Muffin size cakes will bake faster, and a larger dish will take longer, maybe 35 - 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan add the brown sugar, butter, and cream and bring to a simmer. Simmer and stir occasionally until the sauce has slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the baking dish (slice cake into pieces if needed). Poke a few holes into the cake and spoon some of the toffee sauce onto each cake. Let the sauce soak in and serve the cakes warm, ideally with a side of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation


Last year I volunteered to bake the cookies for a cookie decorating party and baked about a hundred cookies, give or take a dozen. It was great fun getting everyone together to decorate gingerbread and butter cookies while watching holiday movies and sipping holiday drinks. But after the party, only a quarter of the cookies were actually consumed. I wish I had heard of Drop In & Decorate earlier because it would have been a fantastic way to give back to the community by donating all those extra cookies.

Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation is a program created five years ago by one of my blogging buds, Lydia, the endless fount of food knowledge behind The Perfect Pantry. The idea is to bake some cookies, invite your family and friends over to help decorate them, and then donate the cookies to a local food pantry, emergency shelter, senior center, lunch program, or other community group. It's a great way to hold a get together and have a blast without spending too much money and give back to the community all at the same time.

This year King Arthur Flour, my favorite flour company, is partnering with Lydia to help promote Drop In and Decorate and is offering a starter baking/decorating kit to help those who would like to host their own decorating party (now through November 15 receive a free dough scraper when you order a kit by using the code Dropin).

For more information head over to Lydia's Nine Cook's website for more information.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Creamy Mushroom Soup with Sauteed Chanterelles

Mushroom Soup with Sauteed Chanterelles

Even though Steven isn't a big soup person like me, we're both crazy about mushroom soup, specifically the one from our local specialty grocery store (MM). MM makes a delicious version that's thick, creamy, and loaded with hearty pieces of mushrooms. I might balk at 99.9% of the prices in that store, but we rarely leave without a container of our favorite soup. Of course we always bring the ladle down to the very bottom of the deep stainless steel pot to make sure to get as many of the big beautiful pieces of mushrooms as we can, since they tend to settle at the bottom. Gotta get the most bang for our buck, ya know? Anyways, recently MM seems to have stopped offering that soup, and that made us quite sad. :( Then it hit me! Take the dried porcinis sitting in my pantry and combine that with the fresh chanterelles Steven's mom gave us (only $10/lb at Costco!), and we could make our very own mushroom soup.

The mushroom soup from the store always had this characteristic earthy and absolutely delicious aroma but Steven and I could never pinpoint exactly what it was. But as I was soaking the dried porcinis, the exact same mysterious smell filled the kitchen. Turns out, the soup smells like dried porcinis and porcini water! Yummm! (Definitely some good quality soup that the store offers.) As for the taste, the soup I made tasted just like the one from the store, maybe even better.

Notes:
- The sauteed chanterelles are optional. You can replace them with your choice of fresh mushrooms, like shiitakes or portobellos, or omit them entirely.
- Most recipes call for pureeing the mushroom soup before serving, but Steven and I love big chunks of mushrooms, so I'll leave that up to you.
- You can use white button mushrooms instead of the criminis (which are actually just immature portobellos), but I think criminis have more flavor (maybe that's just me but cmon they're brown!). :)
- Next time I'll try adding a little more flour because it wasn't as thick as the one at the store.

Mushroom Soup with Sauteed Chanterelles

1 lb crimini or button mushrooms
About 1/2 oz of dried porcinis (I don't have a scale and it's pretty hard to eyeball dried mushroom weights)
2 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C water
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 small onion, minced
1 small clove of garlic
Leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme, minced
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 C heavy cream
About 2 - 3 Tbsp of sherry or Maderia (I substituted 1/2 white wine and 1/2 Marsala)
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional Garnish
Sauteed fresh mushroom
1 Tbsp butter
4 - 8 oz. fresh mushrooms (like shiitakes, portobella, chanterelle, morel, etc.)
1 small clove of garlic
A little salt and pepper
Fresh chives

Bring 3/4 of a cup of water to a boil (I use the microwave). Pour this over the dried porcinis in a bowl or if the water is already in a bowl, just add the dried porcinis and poke them down into the water with a spoon. Cover the bowl with a lid, a small plate, or some plastic wrap, and let it sit to rehydrate the mushrooms.

Clean the crimini mushrooms by brushing them with a soft brush or wipe them with a damp paper towel, trim off any discoloration or spots. Slice them thickly or quarter them, it's up to you. Mince half the onion, set aside. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprig and give them a rough chop, set aside. Press or mince the clove of garlic, set aside.

(Note: why is this step so complicated? Because you wanted to save both the hot water that the porcinis have been soaking in and the water you use to wash them. Then you can combine the two liquids, and pass them through a filter to get rid of the dirt and debris. This liquid is crucial for the flavor of the soup.)
By now the porcinis should have softened. Do not discard the soaking liquid!!! Doesn't it smell good? The recipe called for 1 1/2 C of water so in another bowl, add the remaining 3/4 C of water. It can be warm or cold, doesn't really matter. Use a fork/chopsticks/your impeccably clean fingers and fish out the porcini pieces from the soaking liquid and then give them another rinse in the second bowl of water. This will dislodge any remaining dirt or grit from the mushrooms. Give them a good rub if they're stubbornly dirty. After all the mushroom pieces have been washed, the liquid in the second bowl will be pretty brown too, and save that. You can combine the soaking liquid and the rinsing liquid. Then line a fine mesh sieve with 2 pieces of coffee filter or a layer of paper towel folded in half. Wet the filters or paper towel to prevent it from soaking up the precious porcini water. Then slowly pour the porcini water into the lined sieve into another bowl or measuring cup and set aside for later. The coffee filter or paper towel will prevent the dirt and grit from passing through. Give the porcinis a good chop.

Heat two tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Add a little salt and cook until the onions have softened. When the onions have softened, add the minced garlic, freshly ground nutmeg, and thyme, and let it cook until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add the chopped criminis and porcinis, some salt and pepper. Cook until the liquid released by the mushrooms have evaporated. When the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are starting to brown, you can stop cooking them and set the pan aside.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk the roux until it smells toasty and nutty and looks blond, almost very light brown. Then slowly add in your chicken stock and whisk vigrously to get out any lumps. Then add the porcini water, sometimes there will be very fine dirt that managed to pass through the filter settled at bottom of the cup or bowl, so you can discard the very bottom of the liquid if that occurs. Use a good rubber/silicone spatula and scrape all of the sauteed criminis, porcinis, and any liquid in the skillet into the saucepan. Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile you can prepare the optional sauteed mushroom topping. Slice your mushrooms and mince/press the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, the garlic, some salt, and pepper. Saute until any liquid released from the mushrooms have evaporated and the mushrooms start to brown a little. Set aside for your garnish.

After the soup has simmered for a bit, you can puree it with a immersion blender or in a normal blender (but be careful of the hot soup erupting Old-Faithful-style, only fill the blender jar halfway and hold the top with a towel). Or you can skip the blending part if you like chunky soup like me. Stir in the heavy cream and sherry/Maderia/white wine + Marsala blend and bring the soup back up to a simmer again and then serve. (Usually the soup is sufficiently hot that you can just add the cream and alcohol and serve without simmering again).

Garnish each bowl with some sauteed mushrooms and chopped chives and enjoy. :)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Chipotle Style Braised Pork Faijita Burritos

Chipotle Style Fajita Burritos

Back when Steven and I were in college we would frequent Chipotle for their fajita burritos. We've both graduated and rarely go there nowadays but still get some serious burrito cravings. While googling for a copycat recipe for Chipotle's Carnitas (braised pork in juniper berries, thyme, and bay leaf) or the Barbacoa (braised beef in chipotle adobo and cumin), I stumbled on a recipe from the Niman Ranch cookbook for braised pork shoulder with tomatoes and cumin by Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle. Even though it was a pork recipe, it sounded more like the Barbacoa rather than the Carnitas. But hey we're not picky, and it looked pretty darn tasty. I'm sure the real recipes are hush hush top secret but this recipe made some really delicious shredded pork that we used in Chipotle style fajita burritos with sauteed onions and peppers.

Notes:
- To decrease the spiciness of the pork, use only 1 chipotle pepper or cut them in half lengthwise and remove the seeds.
- At the end, I like to puree the braising liquid, then add that to the shredded meat so it can soak up all the delicious flavor. The meat will be really delicious and juicy.


Braised Pork Shoulder with Tomatoes, Cumin, Cloves and Chipotle Peppers
Adapted from the Niman Ranch Cookbook

3 lb pork shoulder or 3 lb beef chuck roast
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed slightly
1 onion, cut in half then chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 14oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 sprigs of fresh oregano (can substitute dried, about 1/2 tsp?)
2 whole cloves
1 - 2 bay leaves
2 chipotle peppers packed in adobo
1 Tbsp of the adobo sauce
About 1/4 C water or meat stock
Salt and pepper to taste.

Rub some salt and pepper on the pork shoulder (or beef if you're using that).

In a dutch oven heat the oil over medium high heat. Sear the pork shoulder on all sides until it is browned. Remove the pork and set aside for now.

Add the cumin seeds to the pan and toast in the hot oil until fragrant. Add the chopped onions and saute until lightly browned on the edges. Then add the garlic and chopped chipotle peppers and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the whole can of tomatoes including the liquid, bay leaves, dried oregano, cloves, chicken stock or some water and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the pork back to the pan and bring the contents up to a boil then lower to a bare simmer. Braise until the pork is fall apart tender, about 3 - 4 hours (or 6 hours in a slow cooker). You can braise on the stovetop on a low heat setting, in the oven at 325 deg F, or in a slow cooker.

The meat is done when it is fall apart tender. Try your best to remove it in one piece and set aside. Remove the cloves, bay leaves, and oregano sprig (if you used the sprigs) from the braising liquid. Then in a food processor or blender puree into a sauce. If the sauce is too thin, simmer it on the stovetop until it has reduced a little. Meanwhile, using two forks, shred the pork shoulder. Return the shredded meat to the simmering sauce. Let it heat through and soak up all the flavor and juices.

Serve with rice, mexican rice, or in tacos, burritos, etc.



I made some Mexican rice instead of the Chipotle cilantro lime rice. For Chipotle style rice cook long grain rice in chicken stock, then when the rice is finished add some fresh lime juice, chopped cilantro, and a little bit of salt.


Mexican Rice
Adapted from Rick Bayless

1 1/2 C medium grain rice
1 (14 - 15-oz.) can whole tomatoes, drained but reserve the liquid (Muir Glen roasted tomatoes are best)
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 1/2 Tbsp lard (mmm bacon fat), canola or vegetable oil
2 - 3 jalapenos, minced (seeds can be removed for milder rice)
1 3/4 C chicken broth or water
Salt
Optional: chopped cilantro

Rinse the rice then let it drain in a sieve.

In a food processor or blender, puree the drained canned tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Add some of the drained tomato liquid for the puree to equal 1 cup.

Heat the oil or lard in a saucepan or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the rice to the hot oil and stir. Toast the rice for about 5 minutes. Then add the jalapenos, tomato puree, and chicken stock. Scrape up anything stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the contents up to a boil then lower the heat to a bare simmer. Cook for about 15 - 20, or until the rice is cooked through and tender and the liquid has been absorbed.

Fluff with a fork and mix in some chopped cilantro if preferred.



Burritos with Sauteed Peppers and Mexican Rice

Burrito size flour tortillas
Shredded pork
Mexican or cilantro lime rice
Fresh tomato salsa
Sour cream
Guacamole
Shredded Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese
Sauteed onions and peppers
1 white or yellow onion, 1/4 in slices
2 bell peppers, 1/4 in slices
2 tsp of vegetable or canola oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, some salt and pepper, and saute for about 1 - 2 minutes. Then add the bell peppers and saute another minutes. You want both the onions and bell peppers to stay crunchy, but the onions are cooked a little longer to lessen some of the "oniony" bite.

Steam the flour tortillas or warm them for a few seconds in the microwave. Add your burrito filling, roll it up (or attempt to roll it up since we tend to overfill our burritos), and enjoy!

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